Arthur D. Hall III papers
Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
Finding aid prepared by Christopher T. Baer, 2015.,
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Arthur David Hall III was born at Lynchburg, Va. on April 13, 1924. He received a B.S. degree in electrical engineering and physics from Princeton University in 1949 and received postgraduate training through the employee training programs of his first employer, Bell Telephone Laboratories, as well as coursework at Newark College of Engineering, MIT, New York University and Johns Hopkins University. Upon graduating from Princeton, Hall joined the Bell Telephone Laboratories in northern New Jersey, where he became head of the Broadband Systems Studies Department and later of the Television Engineering Department. His most important project was the development of the Picturephone and teleconferencing, but he also worked on cable television and systems for educational television. He also authored a pioneering textbook, "A Methodology for Systems Engineering" in 1962 and was first editor of the IEEE Transactions on Systems Science and Cybernetics in 1965.
Hall left Bell Labs in 1966. Given his subsequent career arc, it is probable that he came to feel at odds with the bureaucratic strictures common to a corporate research laboratory and to working for a regulated monopoly. He subsequently became an expert witness in the Justice Department's ultimately successful antitrust suit against AT&T. Hall then took a short-term job as vice president of engineering for Jerrold Corporation, but in 1967 became visiting professor of systems engineering in the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, where he established the first Ph.D. systems engineering department in the U.S. In 1969 he became adjunct professor of communications at the University's Annenberg School of Communications, where he was employed until 1985 teaching systems methodology and public policy issues related to telecommunications. From 1968 to 1970, he was also vice president of research, systems engineering and development at the Smith-Corona Marchant Division of SCM Corporation, but after that he augmented his academic salary by running an independent consulting business.
On May 4, 1971, Hall incorporated Arthur D. Hall, Inc., in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he formed the company as joint tenant with his second wife, and the marriage ended a few years later in an acrimonious divorce. As a result, Hall incorporated Advanced Design Handling, Inc., in Maryland on August 6, 1975. It was based at his Colonial-era farm at Port Deposit, Md. The names of both companies allowed him to create a common logo from his initials.
Although Hall contracted for a number of small consulting jobs through both firms, beginning in the early 1970s, he became increasingly preoccupied with the idea of applying computers and systems engineering principles to agriculture, culminating in the patenting of what he called "Autofarm" on April 5, 1977. A combination of a small computer and feedback mechanisms would monitor and adjust inputs such as soil moisture. Processes would be integrated so that waste products could be utilized, and plants would be used to recycle water and remove harmful waste products from the environment. Robots would perform picking, harvesting and mulching. Hall always refered to this as a "jumbo patent," a term not used by the Patent Office, because it was almost a half-inch thick compared to the typical two or three page issue, but in this case, less may have been more.
The Autofarm concept was clearly a product of the sensibilites of the early 1970s, the time of "Earth Day" and "The Whole Earth Catalog," and "small is beautiful." Living as he did on his own farm, Hall seemed to conceive of automation and systems engineering as capable of creating a neo-Jeffersonian world of super-efficient, eco-friendly small farmers. While many of the individual elements had promise, and indeed were being used elsewhere or else prefigured modern "green" technologies, the bundled, fully automated system known as Autofarm remained in the realm of science fiction. Hall spent considerable effort to secure federal funding for pilot projects and trying to find people willing to deploy it, from Israel to Poland. Further, his antipathy to big business and bureaucracy also cut him loose from the reality checks that teamwork and budgets provide, so that his ideas became more and more fanciful, such as an Autofarm fully-automated winery that ignored the fact that fine wines are artisanal and not uniform products like colas or energy drinks.
Hall liquidated Advance Decision Handling, Inc. in January 1986, although he made an attempt to revive it in 1990, by which time it seems clear that, while he retained professional friends and admirers, he was becoming increasingly out of the mainstream and left behind by new developments. A new Autofarm system was trademarked in 1999, but it was the work of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs based at Stanford. There is no objective evidence linking it to Hall's earlier work. Although present-day Autofarm embodies some of the same principles of regulated drip irrigation, its principal feature is the use of GPS, a completely new technology, to control the movements of tractors and other farm machinery, and of course, it is successfully targeted to the needs and means of modern agribusiness.
Hall died in Fredericksburg, Va., on March 31, 2006.
The Arthur D. Hall III papers represent a portion of his total archive that survived at the time of his decease and was removed from his home office in Fredericksburg, Va. The main focus of the papers is Hall's work to develop Autofarm and his unsuccessful attempts to secure funding and market the concept to paying customers. There are smaller amounts of material dealing with his career at Bell Labs and his writing and publishing efforts.
The first series of Bell Laboratories materials consists of regular memos and internal publications that would have come to Hall in the ordinary course of work and which were preserved by him in binders. The more substantive papers, notebooks and reports would have remained property of Bell Labs. There is some coverage of his work on Picturephone and other television projects.
The main or numbered file series has been maintained using Hall's own filing system. The files contain the minute books and incorporation papers of his two consulting firms but none of the other business records, such as account books, personnel records or customer correspondence that would permit an analysis of their operations. The minute book of Arthur D. Hall, Inc., contains some of the details of Hall's divorce dispute with his second wife Patricia. There is a bit of material for his work for Herr's Potato Chips, Inc. Some data on the workings and personnel of the companies can be found in the many grant proposals written to secure funding for Autofarm.
Another important file consists of Hall's extensive monthly reports written as an expert consultant to the Justice Department in the A.T. & T. antitrust case, in which he expresses his animus against "Ma Bell."
Files on Autofarm include the original patent of 1977 and the documents connected thereto, numerous grant proposals seeking government funding, research materials and correspondence on the general topics of agricultural efficiency, aquaculture, the use of water plants and poplar trees to filter toxins from the environment, energy from biomass and related matters.
Other files concern Hall's relations with his publishers, including the rejections of his later manuscripts and his indignation on learning his publisher had destroyed a large stock of unsaleable copies. There are also copies of Hall's earlier and shorter writings and speeches, at least two of which contain personal memoirs, as well as material related to professional societies and awards.
The third series or "Vu-graphs" consists of positive acetate transparencies in cardboard frames used with overhead projectors. Some of these were grouped and identified as being used for classroom lectures, but the rest were in a jumbled mass, and it would appear that Hall selected whichever ones he needed for each presentation. Some were clearly used in presentations to market Autofarm, while others seem to be generic textbook illustrations for systems engineering and its application to management and communications.